“In the river flowing right through town, in our people and in our community spirit: There’s just something special about Wetumpka,” says Jenny Stubbs. When talking about the small central Alabama town, Stubbs touts it like it’s her job. And it is: She is the executive director of Main Street Wetumpka, a downtown redevelopment organization. But this passion goes beyond the professional for the eighth-generation native, and when HGTV’s new show Home Town Takeover premieres on May 2, she’s betting others are going to fall for Wetumpka, too.
A spinoff of Erin and Ben Napiers’s hit TV series Home Town, Home Town Takeover features six episodes following the Laurel, Mississippi, renovation-and-preservation power couple as they lead a major refurb of Wetumpka’s downtown and historic district that includes six commercial structures and six houses, as well as a handful of public spaces. Stubbs is eager to see the love spread through the screen. “After the months of production in 2020, I think who we are will come through in the show,” she says. “Having this microphone to amplify our story is thrilling.”
While a few “spoilers” have been released—there will be a student-led mural project, a ladies’ boutique makeover, a facelift for a foster family’s home, plus a Sheryl Crow concert on Main Street—most details have been kept hush-hush to ensure the transformation “reveals” retain their drama. But even old pros like the Napiers uncovered something unexpected. “We were surprised by how universal small-town life is,” Erin says. “Even if the people and streets and restaurants and stores are different, we recognized so many of the same dynamics and personalities from home. People who are passionate about revitalization have much in common.”
Long before the cameras rolled, Wetumpka residents proved they were those people. In 2017, a multiphase plan to bring life back to the city center began. Then, in 2019, a tornado tore through downtown, leveling buildings and ripping up trees, partially reversing those efforts. The city quickly pulled together to pick itself up, and Stubbs believes this “can-do” attitude made the difference: When HGTV asked small cities to share why they should be the focus of Takeover, Wetumpka’s Main Street, the Chamber of Commerce, and the city collaborated on a video that beat out almost a half-million submissions representing 2,600 other U.S. towns. “I keep saying Wetumpka is special, and the grit we showed in the aftermath of that storm, that’s just one piece of it, but I think it’s what made us stand out,” Stubbs says.
Mayor Jerry Willis notes the timing was a tonic. “We were coming back after the tornado, but the show announcement was a shot in the arm that really re-energized us,” he says. “And now, everyone is about to see our resilience at work.” Julie Ellifritz, the manager of downtown’s Market Shoppes—a boutique packed with art, jewelry, and gifts from seventy local vendors—recalls the feeling when Wetumpka learned HGTV was coming to town. “The streets were almost vibrating with the collective excitement,” she says. “We are bracing ourselves for a lot of visitors, and that’s gonna be fun.” She’s already welcomed quite a few out-of-towners. “We ask visitors to stick a pushpin where they’re from in a map we have hanging in the store,” she says. “I imagine it’s really going to fill in over the next few months.”
The episodes will air on HGTV at 8 p.m. each Sunday starting on May 2 (and will be streaming on Discovery+). For fans who want more, there will also be two digital series, The Road to Takeover, which started April 25, and Tales from Takeover, for which Ben and Erin will share their thoughts on each episode, starting May 3.
After the final episode airs, and the world is no longer watching, life in Wetumpka will go on. Based on the city’s past perseverance, Erin is optimistic about its post-fame future. “I hope to see every project we touched take on a new life of its own, years down the road,” she says. “Every town has to figure out its own secret sauce for evolving and be tireless pursuing it.” Mayor Willis is ready: “Count on it. We’re ready to carry this progress forward with more development, more opportunities.”
Erin also believes the show will inspire others. “These lessons are applicable to any small town, you just have to mobilize those local doers and dreamers to make it happen,” she says. People like Stubbs, who stands by her assertion that Wetumpka is special, yet knows it’s not an exclusive designation: “Any place can be special if its people believe it is.”
Inside Erin and Ben Napier’s New Series, Home Town Takeover – Garden & Gun is written by Dacey Orr for gardenandgun.com